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On Writing: Five Elements of a Strong YA Book

You’re ready to start pounding the keyboard with a great idea for a novel to catch the attention of tweens or young adult readers. But where do you begin? What makes that story irresistible to the reader? What makes your manuscript a page turner?

Let’s discuss five elements, each which could take an hour’s seminar to explain in detail, that will help you write a winner. If you incorporate these five elements into your writing, you’ll have a finished product that will catch the eye of an editor and hook your reader until the last page:

1. Develop memorable characters – Joe Schmo should not be a brown-haired, brown-eyed stereotype with no quirks or anything different about him; rather, he should have strong personality traits, perhaps be very courageous or very cowardice to gain your sympathy; he should, nonetheless, conquer his fears and frustrations and go after what he wants.

2. Pace your action and intersperse it with periods of quiet. Kids love action, but if every page has Joe Schmo jumping out of a hot air balloon, swimming the English channel, or saving Mary Schmarey from a bomb that’s going off in three seconds, your reader will just get bored or he might need some nerve pills! Conflicting emotions and inward struggles are just as exciting to the reader as a jet plane flying under the San Francisco Bay Bridge!

3. Develop witty, clever dialogue, but make sure it doesn’t all sound like kids’ talk. Brand your characters with certain styles of dialogue for variety’s sake, and for tween novels especially, “have dialogue on every page,” one of my wise editors once told me.

4. Have your main character face challenges and problems that are very difficult to overcome. You need antagonistic characters to make life difficult for Joe Schmo, or you need to develop a plot that has Joe running in circles or, sometimes, running away before he gets the wisdom or courage to defeat his foe.

5. Develop an “instant-recall factor” in your story line. Winning stories always have a plot or parts of a plot that stay with the reader long after he’s put the book down. What favorite books do you remember? What is it about their story line that is so memorable? Write incidents that excite the reader’s mind or play on his emotions. When I have book signings and my tween fans come to the table, I like to ask them, “Do you like to laugh or cry when you read? I have books in my Keystone Stables Series that will satisfy any emotion, and, hopefully, the characters and story line will stay with my readers long after they’ve read the last page.

So, there you have it. Take these five tips that have helped me become a YA novel best-selling author, and  you’re on your way to writing a winning novel as well.

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